Researcher Blog by Dr Lily Canter: What is the value of journalism accreditation?
About the author
Dr Lily Canter is Principal Lecturer and Subject Group Leader for Journalism and a member of the Communication and Computing Research Centre (CCRC). Lily is also a freelance journalist and writes for newspapers, magazines and online publications writing for The Guardian, The Telegraph, BBC News, The Huffington Post and the regional press.
In this blog post Journalism researcher, Dr Lily Canter, reflects on professional accreditation for journalist. Further information on this research can be found on a video interview from the Association of Journalism Education UK Conference (ajeuk.org).
Fifteen years ago I studied MA Journalism on an accredited postgraduate course.
The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) recognised the quality and content of the course and alongside my degree assessments I sat the NCTJ professional exams. When I started applying for jobs at local newspapers towards the end of my MA all of the adverts asked for NCTJ qualifications and looked fondly upon accredited courses. Had I gone down the broadcast or magazine route I would have also of been in a good position as my course was simultaneously accredited by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) and the Professional Publishers Association (PPA).
But a decade and a half later the media landscape has completely changed. I now freelance for websites and national newspapers and they are more interested in my ideas and output than they are in my NCTJ qualifications. And as subject group leader for journalism at SHU I am acutely aware of the vast range of digital jobs our graduates are recruited to and that working for a local newspaper is no longer the set route into journalism. Indeed jobs in local newspapers are few and far between and often based on temporary contracts. As a result there has been an ongoing debate amongst my colleagues as to whether accreditation and NCTJ qualifications matter anymore. And yet there is pressure from the university to have courses accredited in order to make them more attractive, competitive and marketable to prospective students.
Our BA Journalism course is currently accredited by the PPA and we are exploring BJTC accreditation. We have attempted to gain NCTJ accreditation in the past without success as we are unable to meet their strict curriculum and timetable requirements within our own structure. On the conference circuit I hear the accreditation debate raised time and time again – it is vital versus it is obsolete. I therefore decided to conduct empirical research to better understand the value of accreditation to industry employers as this had not been done before. I received a grant from the Association for Journalism Education (AJE) to do so in 2014.
My qualitative study, which involved interviews with employers across all media platforms, concluded that there was no clear route into journalism and feelings towards accreditation were mixed and on the whole lukewarm. The findings were published in the AJE journal Journalism Education and I presented them at the 2015 AJE conference.
And then the reaction came. Colleagues at other institutions were eager to take the results back to their own universities to challenge executive pressure to accredit their courses and the trade press picked up on the findings. The research was reported in two stories on Hold the Front Page, for a podcast on Journalism.co.uk and referenced in Guardian Media as well as being discussed by two high profile industry bloggers.
Whilst I was on maternity leave in 2015-16 we had a successful re-accreditation visit by the PPA and an initial informal visit by the BJTC. At both visits my research was cited by the chairs of these bodies who were well aware of the findings of the study. Then at the 2016 AJE conference a paper was given by The University of Sheffield on the financial and administrative cost of accreditation which was inspired by my research the previous year. Throughout the whole conference the topic of accreditation was raised continuously no matter what the topic of the paper being presented and there was a general feeling that the paradigm shift in industry no longer fit with accreditation.
Therefore at that same conference I proposed that the AJE run a conference in 2017 dedicated to accreditation and another delegate suggested such an event should co-ordinate a collaborative response to the accreditation bodies. This is currently being discussed by the AJE committee. Although a relatively small scale study, my research is beginning to have a ripple effect on accreditation bodies and the journalism industry. The University of Sheffield has decided to withdraw its BA Broadcast Journalism from the BJTC accreditation scheme and others may follow suit.
Ultimately this could mean that graduates entering journalism will have a more specific skill set which is set by the parameters of their course, rather than a generic set of skills dictated by the accreditation bodies. To a certain extent this is already happening and further research is required to see whether this is having a positive or negative impact on the quality of journalism.
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.